The Good: Good direction, Interesting effects, Good creep-out factor
The Bad: No real character development, Simplistic plot, Mediocre performances
The Basics: A very basic “Creature Of The Week” Doctor Who episode, “Fear Her” does not quite get off the ground.
In episodic television, the constant danger writers and producers run into is that the show will become formulaic. Fortunately for fans of Doctor Who, much of the series is serialized, so it manages not to generate into a formula of Monster Of The Week or Spatial/Temporal Anomaly Of The Week episodes without having a strong thread that ties the season together. Unfortunately, nearing the end of the second season of the newer incarnation of Doctor Who, the show hit something of a rut of episodic pieces with “Love & Monsters” (reviewed here!) and “Fear Her.” “Fear Her” is a pretty basic and unfortunately unsatisfying episode, though it does not fall quite as far as “The Idiot’s Lantern” (reviewed here!). Instead, like “The Idiot’s Lantern,” it is a Creature Of The Week episode that follows a very familiar format of episodes where the adversary is immediately known by the viewer.
Unfortunately, just like the season’s low-point, “Fear Her” features a medium who is doing the dirty work for the real antagonist of the episode. Just like The Wire in “The Idiot’s Lantern,” the force manipulating the apparent enemy in “Fear Her” is not particularly well-defined or compelling. “Fear Her” is very plot-focused and belabors defining the creature of the week as opposed to developing The Doctor, Rose or their relationship.
The Doctor and Rose arrive in the near future for the Olympics, where Rose notices a number of missing children flyers on local posts. On the little suburban street upon which they land, children are disappearing (even as the old lady Maeve watches) and the culprit seems to be a young girl, Chloe, whose mother is afraid of her and who draws pictures of those who almost instantly disappear. When Chloe draws the people who then disappear, they seem to become trapped in the paper upon which they draw. While Chloe’s mother, Trish, seems to know something is wrong, she does not know how to help.
Investigating the disappearances, the Doctor discovers ionic energy in the neighborhood and Rose is attacked by a flying scribble. Theorizing that the creepy girl she saw in one of the houses might be involved, Rose investigates Chloe and discovers her massive collection of drawings. As well, Rose finds a moving, talking picture of Chloe’s father in the girl’s closet and that gets The Doctor more actively involved. Telepathically linking with Chloe, the Doctor discovers that the little girl is being manipulated by a being called Isolus, a spaceborn race that requires communities to survive. The Isolus intend to use the Olympics to gain their community and when Chloe captures The Doctor through her drawings, Rose is left on her own to save the world!
“Fear Her” hinges on The Doctor essentially doing a Vulcan Mind Meld with Chloe to access the Isolus and one feels that writer Matthew Graham just wanted to write a Star Trek episode the way he references that show so frequently (or implicitly). In many ways, “Fear Her” is a simple possession episode that is explained away with an alien spore. The weird superpower of the child creating drawings that imprison people is not satisfactorily explained, though there is enough to reason that ionic energy is somehow transmitted from the Isolus into the paper to make the moving picture versions of people.
The special effects in “Fear Her” are good enough to make the visual conceit of the episode work. The idea that people Chloe sees are trapped in paper like some sort of Phantom Zone is well-rendered.
While Billie Piper and David Tennant have great on-screen chemistry in “Fear Her,” until the last few moments of the episode, they do not really develop the characters of Rose or The Doctor. Rose is still (in many ways) a generic sidekick who relies upon the Doctor to save the day. Piper and Tennant relate well to the virtual elements in the episode to embody the sense of a real world that works. But the episode is pathetically low on character development and the episode relies heavily on performances by the guest actors to fill the episode. Nina Sosanya gives a solid supporting performance as Trish, but Abisola Agbaje emotes very flatly as Chloe. While Chloe is supposed to be emotionally disconnected, she seems blandly rendered on the performance front.
Ultimately, “Fear Her” is simplistic, dull and does not fit in well with the rest of the season (six years after the ghosts become a daily part of the world’s life as prelude to a Cyberman invasion and there is no mention of them during Olympics coverage or on the street where people have been disappearing?!). This is an episode of Doctor Who that one might safely pass by.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!
For other works with creepy children and fear as a villain, please visit my reviews of:
“The Thaw” – Star Trek: Voyager
“Conduit” - The X-Files
“Dr. Strangechild” – VR.5
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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